Posted by: gavinstokes | July 22, 2011

Knowledge sharing and social media


Knowledge sharing in contemporary research is seen as a social dilemma, in that it is a social goods problem,  people can benefit from the public good without the need to contribute, this in turn leads to an incentive problem for those willing to contribute.

The traditional solution to dealing with this has been to increase the benefits to individuals or encourage a more pro-social behaviour amongst the group identity. This is where web 2.0 or social computing comes into play.

Social networking participation rates are staggeringly high across an array of various platforms from Wikis to Facebook. Not only are people contributing to not for profit communities but they are also contributing to communities that are managed by for profit companies, such as customer service, reviews etc.

Current theoretical research focuses heavily on the limitations of knowledge management as viewed through an abstract problem, which is distinct from the technology involved. When looking at web 2.0 sharing it is worthwhile seeing the sharing problem or knowledge management problem as a social-technical issue.

For knowledge sharing to be successful, an improved agility to act and not just share or access is needed. With online sharing there is a greater diversity of incentives, with there being little or no cost to sharing. With web 2.0 knowledge, sharing can actually benefit from free-riding behaviour. Non-contributing members add to the prestige of contributors by increasing the size of the community or followers, prestige as an incentive and driver to contribute is a strong motivator as is clearly shown in the article “Blogging at work and the Corporate Attention Economy” Yaradi, 2009, et al.

 

How knowledge sharing takes place in Web 2.0 communities can be the exact opposite of the ideal portrait of knowledge sharing within an organisation. Allowing users the freedom to create their own taxonomies, tags, and categories would seem to run against best practise for organisational knowledge management but it as has been shown in the case of Emergency Knowledge management in theHaitidisaster this was the most ideal model.

Knowledge management initially during theHaitidisaster was carried out in a structured predefined way with once weekly meetings between organisations, this left little room for questioning and open discussion as time was a factor during these meetings. It was also found the predefined structures within legacy systems limited cross boundary communication and sharing, and its lack of flexibility and configurability led to user apathy.

Upon switching to SharePoint and using more social media orientated platforms, it was found that knowledge sharing increased. Visibility of how colleagues where sharing and managing knowledge increased, this included how information was sourced and identifying what various functions where using similar information but from various end points. An example of this was the generation of an airfield radar map, due to a lack of complete maps of the area a request was placed which led to communications and airfield operations sharing a joint map, it then was adopted by other functional areas such as fuel stores and personnel movements. Social media facilitated the who, what, where and how of accessing knowledge, by centralising information and access on the one platform. Reuse also eliminated significant duplication of effort.

One of the factors that allowed knowledge management to succeed during theHaitidisaster was active participation of senior leaders. Actively engaged senior leaders could access and contribute at times that suited themselves and respond to requests for new information as they occurred. The most successful model proved to be one whereby managers setup an initial basic hierarchy with a basic suggestion guide of how users might contribute. Mirroring functional departmental hierarchy had already proved to be restrictive and inflexible leading to the failure of the site.

One of the problems encountered with the less rigid format of structuring information was management of information as the site grew.  With a lack of naming conventions and users failing to use meta data it became at times difficult to track down information.

Overall social-enabled knowledge management systems did seem to be a success with knowledge flowing across the boundaries of departments, agencies and organisations. It created an awareness of knowledge, which in turn allowed it to be re-purposed for new and innovative uses. With a greater ability to flexibly create knowledge this lead to internal knowledge being more easily transformed into more externally friendly content. In addition, external and internal users could iteratively transform this knowledge by the addition of comments.

There are challenges facing social-enabled knowledge management, such as accuracy of information, information overload and the need to constantly validate information. But overall social media supports faster decision cycles, a more complete knowledge resource, better coordination and knowledge reuse.

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